An independent hearing examiner upheld the firing of Joseph Palazzolo saying he was not a whistle-blower as claimed, according to a report issued to district officials late Friday. Palazzolo has said he was retaliated against for helping to bring forward information about Heights that embarrassed the district -- such as allegations of mishandling attendance records, a hostile work environment at the school and the disparate treatment of minority students.
But hearing examiner Rick Rickman upheld the termination saying trustees had good cause to fire Palazzolo. Among Rickman's findings were that Palazzolo falsified job applications for the district, mistreated students, caused a divisive atmosphere at schools and used questionable tactics. The complete report can be read here and here.
Palazzolo's attorney Jason Smith questions the accuracy of the report. For example, Smith said Rickman writes about a conflict Palazzolo had with a student known by initials “S.S.” and notes that she is an African American student who was later removed from his purview as assistant principal. The report goes on to note that other African American students were also reassigned from Palazzolo’s by superiors because he had issues working with minority students. Rickman had upheld in the report district allegations that Palazzolo disciplined minority students harsher than whites. But Smith said “S.S.” is an Anglo student.
“The hearing examiner states that Joe’s treatment of S.S. was discriminatory but S.S. is white,” Smith said. “That’s a big mistake. He can’t even get the basic facts correct.”
Rickman noted that the hearing transcript was more than 2,300 pages with a number of exhibits that he had to review to meet Friday's deadline. "It is possible that a mistake could have been made, and if so, I will address it," Rickman wrote in an e-mail response.
District spokeswoman Barbara Griffith said “S.S.” is a white student but the situation described in the report about her was not about race but about Palazzolo’s treatment of her as a student. She noted that officials would review the report to look for any errors and address those before the board votes on Palazzolo's firing at its March 8th board meeting.
“It was not about racial treatment but about him accusing her of promiscuity and being inappropriate and disrespectful to students in general,” Griffith said.
Palazzolo's attorney Jason Smith disagrees with the reports findings saying it disregarded testimony from teachers who supported his client and called him "ethical, fair and consistent." He plans to appeal to Texas Education Agency commissioner Robert Scott.